John Lyttle on film

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Success confines. Failure frees. If you should doubt it, check out John Travolta's two most recent screen appearances. Only a star who isn't supposed to exist at all, whose career had already been consigned to the dustbin of history, could feel liberated enough not to care about portraying the utter bastard who dominates Broken Arrow ("I don't understand all the fuss about killing. I really don't") or the ruthless Mafia debt- collector who makes it in the movies in Get Shorty. But then, that role must have seemed almost pale in comparison to Pulp Fiction's scuzzy hit man, the sort of part that would have sent most idols into hiding and their agents into a fit.

Nevertheless, it's amazing to see quite how far Grease's blue-eyed boy is willing to go. There are obviously no rules for the resurrected. Usually a star will have excuses built into the most villainous turn, the way some actors have lifts built into their shoes: he's this way because of a bad childhood, a ruined romance, because - alert the media - he's "stretching" as an artist. Not Travolta; you register his pleasure in evil, the flash in his eyes when he pulls a gun on Christian Slater or Bruce Willis or whoever, and not all the supposedly defusing humour in the world can repress that pleasure. It's not a personal impulse, of course, merely professional bad manners, doing something the system says he shouldn't - and it makes you wish all stars could have 10 years in the wilderness, for it's not only good for the soul but good for the talent, too.